I found my spot.

by francine Hardaway on October 2, 2006

I found my spot. It is Taormina, in Sicily. In fact, Sicily itself, Sopranos to the contrary, may be my spot. It is a beautiful mountain town, as yet not overrun by the tourists who have ruined the Amalfi coast. I was bummed when we took our drive to Sorrento, Positano and Amalfi, because even though I knew they were beautiful, and the coast line was beautiful, and the Bay of Naples is beautiful, when you throw a few thousand people with cameras into a town that only has a total population of 5000, you quickly unbalance the ecology and the place begins to look like the Ginza. Every town on the Amalfi coast that we visited looked like the Ginza.

The highlight of the Amalfi coast was the restaurant where we had lunch — down three levels and hanging over the Bay. Homemade Spinach Canneloni. White wine much stronger than any I remember in the US. And an elevator that did not work and trapped three of our fellow cruisers.

No, wait a moment: the highlight was when the guide told us that the word spa comes from the Latin “salute para acqua” — health through water. So health spa is redundant. And on our ship, we have a redundant “AquaSpa.” Now you know.

But I am glad I saw it, because I read about all those towns in Hemingway, who went to them in the 1920s and 30s when I am sure they were really great. (Have you noticed I am writing without using contractions? I cannot find the apostrophe on the Italian keyboard!)

Taormina, beautiful, classy, with narrow streets. Sicily, especially Messina where we docked, has very narrow streets. I could not understand the guide, because she has a thick Sicilian accent (calls the castles Kass-tells), but I think she told us Sicily is the product of two fault lines, one in Messina and one in the middle of the ocean, that divided it from the African continent long ago and pushed it toward Italy. At present, Sicily is about a twenty-minute ferry ride from Italy, but they have never built a bridge to the continent — perhaps because they think there will be another earthquake and it will just come unglued anyway.

Sicily, like the Netherlands, is one of those countries everyone marched through — Greeks, Romans, Arabs, etc., so it has a real mix of cultures and its language is a dialect. It also has a real mix of landscapes, from desert to the beautiful views of the Bay of Naxos. I love it.

After over a week of constantly being around people, I decided to get on a bus tour where I would know no one, and try to spend the day without getting to know anyone. I am traveling with thirty-odd friends and neighbors, and learning more about them on this trip than I ever knew before. It is amazing how we Americans, busy with our work and our investments and our workouts and our leisure, manage to pass each other casually without ever breaking the surface of our personalities. On this trip, the amount of time we spend at sea, in relatively close quarters, gives us a chance to get to know each other more. But after I get to know the people I came with, I am afraid I do not have much desire to know anyone else :-)

Eleven nights is an unsettling number of days on a ship, and an equally unsetting number of shore excursions. Somewhere in Italy, on a bus to somewhere else, we passed a cameo factory that had been in business since 1848, and because it had new, clean toilets, we all stopped there and I bought a cameo. But I cannot remember which bus, which town, which day. So there you have it.

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